Now the chief of staff for Human Resources Management, Jim Copeland was previously a Forest Service Job Corps center director. He was born near Fort Bragg in North Carolina to a military family that traveled extensively in the United States and abroad. Because the family settled in Texas the longest, Jim feels that this is where his roots are. His father was a Lt. Colonel in the US Army and is currently a psychologist, while his mother is a clinical social worker. His brother Daniel was an Army Captain and is currently serving in federal service as well. Jim jokes with his parents that growing up, he was a test subject for their training.
Who or what inspired you growing up?
I had many inspirations from George Washington Carver, Martin Luther King Jr, Edwin Louis Cole, and my father Dr. Jim Copeland, Jr. Each achieved great things, but not at the expense of his character. I always was intrigued by what drives people to high achievement and how they measure true success. I also take to heart all the people who have invested into me over the years. Those coaches and mentors helped inspire me to aim high, serve others, and be what I need to be to help our agency grow.
What do you do in the Forest Service and when did you start working here?
I started in the Forest Service in September of 2008. My first Job was at Schenck Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center in a position similar to that of a public school principal. Before that, I taught elementary and middle school in a behavioral classroom. Later, I was a special education coordinator for the US Department of Justice Federal Bureau of Prisons working at a penitentiary. So, I have had the fortunate opportunity to serve learners in multiple facets in the area of special education.
What is your favorite part of your job?
Oh my! My favorite part of my job is the people. People are unpredictable and resilient. We can learn so much from each other. Specifically, I love opportunities to accomplish great things with others. This enables innovation, creativity, and growth. Achieving the impossible and looking around to share that success with others is truly one of my favorite things to do.
How have your education, background, or personal experiences prepared you for the work that you do now?
Great question! The flexibility and resilience that I gained from my early experiences helped prepare me for the challenges ahead. I am a special education teacher by trade. My background working with students with special needs in the public schools and in the Department of Justice Federal Bureau of Prisons has helped me understand human interaction and what drives people toward success. All these experiences prepared me for the work I do now.
Describe a recent, current, or upcoming project that you’re currently working on.
A current project that I am working on is space utilization for the agency’s Masthead Campus in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Human Resource Management is growing. In the past, there was more flexibility in telework. However, our current policies require staff to work on campus. We must look at space utilization standards and staff needs within our current limited footprint. This project is not just about finding a place to sit and work, but also about creating a positive work environment and atmosphere in which people feel welcome.
Describe a professional or personal achievement that you are particularly proud of.
Wow! That’s a hard one. I am proud of a book I wrote and published, Life is a Game. I recently completed the Forest Service Senior Leader Program 14. I have been blessed to have received several awards, including the USDA Secretary Award for Cultural Transformation, the Chief’s Award for Cultural Transformation, the Job Corps National Director’s Award for Excellence in Education, the Regional Forester’s Award for Partners and Community, and the Job Corps National Director Award for National Forest System Champion. However, the award that stands out to me is the USDA Secretaries Award for Innovation that I nominated a staff member for. This Job Corps staff member is a teacher who went above and beyond to streamline processes that enhanced efficiencies across the agency and the Department of Labor. It is an honor to champion staff and see their successes recognized not only by me but honored broadly by all.
Why do you think your field is important?
Human Resource Management is in the people business. We truly connect people through the land by supporting their journey to become members of the Forest Service family. We are here to provide excellent customer service and partner with regions and stations to create fluid processes that nurture employees from hire to retirement.
What are some of the greatest challenges confronting your field?
It’s easy to do things the way that we’re used to, and challenging to be innovative and create new pathways to enhance continuity and communication. One challenge I have seen is the growing number of people within our workforce who are eligible to retire. It’s important to capture this wisdom and knowledge while we can to ensure continuity. Finding innovative ways to create avenues to meet this need is a constant challenge, yet a worthy endeavor. Mentoring and coaching have been life changing for me, and I believe that employing these strategies can provide avenues to equip and pass down wisdom while enhancing diversity of thought and leadership in the agency.
How would you like the public to perceive the work we do at the Forest Service?
Two things come to my mind when asked this question: “Caring for the Land and Serving People,” and “People First, Mission Always.” I believe that conservation is a team effort. People matter. How can we empower each other through shared stewardship principles that enable us to reach across boundaries and assist one another in caring for the land and each other? Through the work we do…WE as in, together with the public and our partners. We are joint stakeholders in land management and safety.
Do you have any advice for someone wanting to serve their country as a Forest Service employee?
Jump In! The Forest Service has something for almost everyone. I started in the Forest Service as a staff member with Job Corps. I later had the opportunity to become a line officer and to work as a public affairs specialist in Research and Development, and now I am a Chief of Staff. Who’d have figured that? This is a career with lots of roads to travel, and being a part of the Forest Service family is an awesome experience. So what will your journey be? We are hiring, so come and join the Forest Service!